Herod’s Birthday party — Matthew 14:6–12

The withdrawal of the King — part 3

40 blogs of Lent — day 4

At the end of this passage Jesus withdraws, devastated at the loss of a close relative and one of the few people who supported him. Killed on the whim of a corrupt political leader as a present for his step daughter. I knew the family of Herod was corrupt before I looked into this. I had no idea.

Herod’s Banquet (detail) by Fra Filippo Lippi (15th century)

But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.

Matthew 14:6-13 ESV UK

The name Salome for Herod’s step daughter does not come from the Bible, but from the historian Josephus. But there is something that troubles me about this story oh Herod’s birthday feast, what sort of dance would please a man so much as to make him offer her anything she wanted? In films Salome is often portrayed as an erotic dancer. In art she is sometimes depicted as dancing topless. My disquiet? Herod is her step-father. Alsi Herodias, Salome’s mother and Herod’s wife is behind it. What sort of family is this?

So John had called Herod to repent. The sin of a ruler would pollute the land and make it easier for others to sin.

But why does this relationship matter? Why was John making as issue about tetrarch Herod divorcing his wife to get married to his brother’s wife Herodias in the first place? Was it worth dying for? Relationships matter because relationships matter to God. God is about relationship, the Trinity is a relationship.

This in not some kind of puritanical rant against sex. There is a book of the Bile where the relationship between God and his people (seen as the Jewish people by the Jews and the Church by Christians) is depicted as a relationship in the form of an erotic poem. The beautiful verses that follow are not the strongest in the book:

Your stature is like a palm tree,
    and your breasts are like its clusters.
I say I will climb the palm tree
    and lay hold of its fruit.

Song of Solomon 7:7-8

God’s relationship is not only exclusively with a people, but it is also with individuals and inclusive. It is fully inclusive. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28. The inclusiveness can be extended to neither straight or LGBT+, neither cisgender or transgender, for all are one in Christ Jesus and all can have a vlose intimate relationship with God. That is why human relationships are important, they mirror the close relationship of the Godhead and the relationships between humans and God.

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